Local public schoolteachers could see raises as early as this summer thanks to a much-publicized influx of more than $30 million in state funding, according to Palm Beach County School District officials.
The exact amount of individual raises, as well as the how and when teachers will see that money will have to be negotiated with the teachers union, district officials said. But with collective bargaining scheduled to begin later this month, thousands of teachers and other district employees could begin receiving the raises by the time they return to work in the summer.
On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott was in Palm Beach County on a “pep rally tour” touting those $480 million in impending increases statewide — which were a top priority of his administration during the just-ended legislative session.
“All these teachers deserve raises,” said Scott, flanked by kindergartners and teachers while standing in front of a sign that read, “Teacher Pay Raise Pep Rally” at Wynnebrook Elementary School in suburban West Palm Beach.
Scott, who began his five-city tour at a high school in Broward Monday morning, began pushing a $2,500 across-the-board raise for the state’s public schoolteachers before the session began. The move was seen as an effort to further soften his image with teachers after cutting more than $1 billion from education his first year in office.
Still, while the Republican-controlled Legislature managed to approve the $480 million Scott wanted, lawmakers made the raises contingent upon “merit-based” job evaluations for an expanded group of employees rather than the across-the-board hikes for teachers alone.
According to the legislation’s formula, a teacher who is rated as “effective” can get as much as a $2,500 raise, while those rated as “highly effective” can get $3,500. Districts could give the raises as early as the 2013-14 school year, if they have a process in place to evaluate teachers.
Van Ludy, labor relations chief for Palm Beach County schools, said the district has been developing a process. As a result, it could give teachers the raises next school year. But he said specifics, such as the exact formula for how teachers would be evaluated for the raises, would have to be agreed upon this summer by the district and the Classroom Teachers Association before teachers could see any increase.
It took the two sides nine months to negotiate the current contract, and they are to start the next round of collective bargaining on May 20.
CTA President Debra Wilhelm said even if it take several months, any raises would likely be retroactive to the start of the school year. But she was hopeful the district and union could work something out by the start of the next school year.
“The sooner they can get that money the better. They need it,” Wilhelm said.
The exact amount the district will get is still being determined, but district lobbyist Vern Pickup Crawford estimated it would be around $33 million.
A potential hurdle to a fast agreement is that local teachers have been critical of the evaluation scores the district has been developing. After last school year, the district decided to score all teachers as at least “effective,” after they noticed a lot of variance in how evaluators, such as principals, were scoring teachers.
Ludy said this year the district has been trying to train all of its evaluators to come up with a more uniform and reliable process.
Wilhelm said teachers don’t mind being evaluated but the system has to be fair, and “we all know the system we’re using right now is flawed.”
“We’re glad they passed the bill because teachers deserve it, but on the flip side there are so many strings attached that it is a shame.” she said.
Ludy said lawmakers expanded the pool of who would receive the raises from just classroom teachers to include several other job categories — such as guidance counselors, media specialists, principals and vice principals — without increasing the funding. That could thin out the available pool of money for raises.
District officials still are trying to determine exactly how many employees would be eligible for raises, Ludy said. According to district records, as the start of the current school year, more than 13,300 employees fit the designated job categories.